I had been doing paintings for about fifteen years when I first stumbled on the idea of doing books in around 1984. I am not sure that I would be able to reconstruct the thought-processes that led me to see books as a possibility, but I can remember some early, strong impressions.
The first books I worked on were second-hand, usually old, and often had handwritten inscriptions in them which, for some reason, I found very moving. As I began to work on them, certain other qualities con-genial to my then state of mind became clear. I found satisfaction in the limitations imposed by the size and length of the books - it solved certain problems neatly and easily. I liked the idea of flipping the pages from where I was to what I'd done earlier; I enjoyed the shift in orientation, from looking up at a wall or an easel to looking down into my lap or onto a table, like a shoemaker or a seamstress (my father was a tailor; imitating the form of his body at work pleased me greatly.)
But most important, I now think, was the useful, liberating fiction that these works were in their very nature private, diaristic, not designed with a viewer in mind. It seemed to me that I could circumvent, so to speak, the history of art, by working in a medium that, in its modesty, most obviously made no claim to comparison with the great works of the past, and this too I found strangely liberating. Another illusion I liked was the illusion of permanence: books, after all did not die, they could be passed on for generations without the in-out judgements of critics or curators. This notion of the permanence of books was especially appealing to me in their aspect of “recordings,” of setting down a chronicle of events that, once set down, kept the past alive and available. This, I learned, meant a good deal to me personally as I began to identify my little histories with the fallen-away history of my own family's past. A diary, a book, a record of any sort contained between covers, might have preserved for me information about the history of my parents (holocaust survivors) and their relatives and friends the lack of which I think of as a black hole in my sense of self-identity.
At a certain point I found myself working with art books, usually monographs, and here it was almost the opposite of what I'd admired in books prior. Here I found myself in some sense oppressed by the ruthlessness of compression. Knowing something of the life of an artist, I was acutely conscious of what such monographs condensed or discarded altogether. In all artist's monographs, I believe, the life of the studio is brushed aside, and with it the very process of creation. The finished product, the material of all monographs, is, every artist knows, only a fraction of the abundant energy of life and mind that led to its making. And so, in my art books I often find myself negotiating a complex of contradictory feelings involving my respect (or disrespect), admiration (or dislike) of the artist with a keen sense of the limitations of the book which presents him to me. (It is certainly possible that the word-chains that I use in many of these books may, in some not-quite-conscious manner, attempt to fill this void.)An art book adds a new dimension to the life and work of an artist: there is the life, there is the work, there is the book about him and there is me, manipulating for my own purposes, all three.